Doug Ford’s strong mayoral powers will mean more housing, committee says

Premier Doug Ford’s « strong mayor » powers for Toronto and Ottawa will weaken local democracy by limiting city council’s influence and authority, a legislative committee has said.

But the all-party panel that studied the legislation also heard the Progressive Conservative law would help the government meet its goal of building 1.5 million homes in Ontario over the next decade.

Myer Siemiatycki – professor emeritus of politics at Toronto Metropolitan University, formerly known as Ryerson University – warned that the bill would “marginalize the input and voice of city councillors”.

“By doing this, who it really hurts is local residents,” said Siemiatycki, who has opposed the idea that the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa could overrule council votes on issues considered as a « provincial priority ».

“Currently councilors have a single vote on all municipal matters – they also collectively appoint senior city officials. This is currently not a unilateral decision by the head of the council, the mayor,” the professor said.

“So if we go the route of this legislation, ward councilors will effectively be sidelined from key decisions made by city government. Senior executives will see their careers as totally dependent on the mayor’s approval,” he said.

“It transforms our mayors from local chief justices to provincial enforcement officers at city hall.”

Proponents of the legislation argued that it would speed up housing construction.

Alex Piccini, director of government relations for the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, insisted the bill would make « more homes more affordable by speeding up approval times and eliminating red tape. » administrative”.

Additionally, it would see the release of « more land available for construction, adding certainty to the cost of new housing, laying the foundation for future growth and taking the politics out of planning, » Piccini said.

“We need to significantly accelerate the delivery of housing supply if we are to achieve that target of 1.5 million homes over the next decade,” he said.

« Bold changes, not half measures, are what we absolutely need. »

David Wilkes, president and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), noted that achieving the goal of building this many homes will not be easy.

“To put that into perspective … 2021 was the best year for housing starts in 34 years with just over 100,000 starts,” Wilkes said.

“So building the 1.5 million homes Ontario needs over the next decade will require us to increase more than 50 per cent or 50,000 annual housing starts from 2021 and maintain that pace for a decade,” he said.

“Meeting this need will require bold and decisive action on multiple fronts,” he said.

« We need to significantly accelerate approvals, streamline advance planning, remove land development barriers to specifically increase housing starts from current levels to help support these ambitious goals. »

But NDP MP Jessica Bell said a downside of the Tory legislation is the presumption ‘that a city’s ability to build homes faster really depends on the personality and values ​​of the mayor at hand’ .

« I wonder why the government isn’t focusing more on what it can do provincially to accelerate the construction of housing for Ontarians and future Ontarians, » said Bell (University-Rosedale).

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark told the committee last week that his bill would speed up construction of duplexes, triplexes, laneway apartments and other projects blocked by exclusionary zoning.

“We need housing of all types. We need family-sized condos, we need purpose-built rentals, we need homes that have different price ranges for different people,” Clark said Thursday.

Exclusionary zoning rules are often used by so-called « not in my backyard » naysayers – NIMBYs – to prevent the construction of multi-unit homes in traditionally single-family neighborhoods.

Under the law, the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa would have sweeping new powers over municipal budgets and the hiring and firing of the city’s top executives.

Only a two-thirds vote of the council could overrule a “strong mayor” on important issues.

Ford said those powers would eventually be extended to other major cities, such as Mississauga, Brampton and Hamilton.

Robert Benzie is the bureau chief at Star’s Queen’s Park and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie


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